Macro Techniques

I ran across a pair of summer azures, Celastrina neglecta, the other day, and was able to take a series of photographs.  I worked a little with the photographs, changing some of the camera settings, and I thought it would be helpful to show and analyze what I did.


I use a 105 mm macro lens.  Normally when I chase butterflies and they are in bright sun I can get a good exposure at f/16 and 1/250 second.  I use the lowest ISO setting–200 on my camera.   Usually I like the results, so that is my default exposure.  I always have my settings on manual so I control them, not the camera.

The problem I ran into with this photograph was that the butterflies were not in bright sun.  I had to go to f/9.  When doing close-up work, depth of field or depth of focus becomes very critical, and you lose that when you open up the lens.  You can see that only a small part of the leaf is in focus.  However, I did get the eyes of both butterflies in focus–you do that by moving to the right angle, and with a little bit of luck I got what I consider a pretty good photograph.  I got lucky with this shot, and I got a number of other photos in which one or both of the butterflies were out of focus.  You are dealing with millimeters at this range.


I have an on-camera flash, and I used it with this photograph.  You can see how the depth of field is greater–the leaf is pretty much all in focus.  The details–hairs on the wings and bodies–show up pretty well here.  The settings were f/32 and 1/250 second.  When I take photographs of very small insects, these are the settings I usually use.

However, the lighting of the background goes bad.  It looks like the butterflies were lit with a flashlight at night, when in fact the photo was taken in the middle of the day.  So I moved around a little.


With this photo, I used the flash.  The lens was at f/32, and the shutter speed was 1/125 second.  The blue sky shows that the photo wasn’t taken at night.  So we have good depth of field, the butterflies are in focus, details are clearer.

All of this manipulation of the photo conditions depends on the cooperation of the butterflies, but these two were lost in the moment.

I like the first photo the best.  But had it not been quite in focus it would not have worked at all.  Cropping closer to the butterflies might make the second or third photos better.

If you want to be a good photographer, learn how to use your camera settings.  That makes a huge difference in the looks of the photos.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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